What is a feminist book?
“We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice.” Shami Chakrabarti
Honno is a women’s press with feminism as a core value – but we often publish books that don’t seem to have overtly feminist themes. So during Feminist Book Fortnight we asked ‘what is a feminist book?’, looking at a different book every day, chosen from both our contemporary and classic lists.
Here is the round up of the books selected by Honno staff and committee.
JILL by Amy Dillwyn.
The lesbian narrator of Amy Dillwyn’s novel Jill rebels against the class and gender constrictions of her society in her quest for self-fulfillment. At its first publication in 1884, it heralded the dawn of the ‘New Woman’ in fiction; reprinted in Honno Press’s Welsh Women’s Classics series in 2013, it remains today a vital and vibrant testimony to the pioneering feminism of its author. Jane Aaron
THE HOWARTH FAMILY SERIES by Judith Barrow.
Judith writes about a group of women through the generations from the early 20 Century and pre women’s suffrage.She depicts very clearly how society and family, including the women, slows down or prevents the women from progressing and improving their lives. Gaining the vote does not mean total freedom, her female characters are also struggling against financial, familial and societal constraints as well. Nicky
GHOSTBIRD by Carol Lovekin is about a family of women: teenage Cadi, her mother Violet and aunt Lily. When Cadi demands to know the truth of who she is, she wakes the ghost of her sister Dora, who will make all the family face the secrets they tried to hard to hide. Part family drama, part magic realism, the moving story treats everyone, old or young, lesbian or straight, with great intelligence and warmth. Janet
NANSI LOVELL: Hunangofiant Hen Sipsi byElena Puw Morgan
– A novel about strong female characters who take charge of their own lives and struggle with the conventional expectations of society at the time, e.g. as regards motherhood. Doesn’t idealise women’s lot in any way.Wini
– “Nofel am gymeriadau benywaidd cryfion sy’n cymryd cyfrifoldeb am eu bywydau eu hunain ac yn ymgodymu hefo disgwyliadau confensiynol y gymdeithas ar y pryd, e.e. parthed bod yn fam. Nid yw yn delfrydu bywydau menywod mewn unrhyw ffordd.” Wini
FALLING by Debbie Moon
A futuristic story or a woman with abilities that are used by the authorities, and not always to her advantage. She has to re-adjust to her new timelines and skills many times whilst being aware of those around her, including her colleagues who may wish her harm. Her character is written as a strong determined woman working to keep herself safe and free. Nicky
THE WHITE CAMELLIA & WE THAT ARE LEFT by Juliet Greenwood
The White Camellia, set in the early 1900s, has some great feminist characters: Sybil, the enigmatic business woman who can hold her own with villagers, mineworkers and some pretty treacherous family members to aristocratic; Vicky who intimidates authority in defence of her fellow suffragettes; and Bea herself who is fighting the prevailing norms of eligible marriages, work considered suitable for females and male authority in her own young life. It’s salutary to remember the enormous societal challenges that the suffragettes faced, and inspirational that despite all of those, using their wit, courage and tenacity, they WON the right to vote. Nicola
In We That Are Left Elin’s wealthy but controlled life is changed utterly by the first world war. With her husband away, she has to learn to grow food for the village and help her friends, and experiences great danger but also shocking new freedom. When Hugo comes back, how can she go back to how life was before? The novel captures the repression of women in the early 20th century, the life-changing power of female friendships and the terrible cost of war to women and men. Janet
THE VERY SALT OF LIFE: Welsh Women’s Political Writing from Chartism to Suffrage – an important and innovative collection of writing by Welsh women in a domain not traditionally associated with them in the period covered by the book, i.e. politics. The edited collection makes it clear that women engaging in politics today and venturing into the public sphere are part of a longer tradition than one might think, and it gives a new platform and new visibility to female voices that have been neglected for too long.
ABSOLUTE OPTIMIST by MennaElfyn
The book that discusses the life of Eluned Phillips. She continually lived and wrote whilst every award and recognition that was given under her pseudonym was proclaimed as plagiarism (by men assumed to be her lovers) by her male and female peers when her identity was revealed. The strength Eluned showed through her life to continue to write is amazing. Nicky
STRANGER WITHIN THE GATES by Bertha Thomas
This is described as a collection of witty, sharply observant stories, written at a time of great social change. What I didn’t expect was that it would feel so contemporary and relevant. Enjoyable and illuminating, and the wonderful ‘Latest Intelligence from the Planet Venus’: a witty, pro-female-suffrage parody, is particularly enjoyable. Helena
GOD’S CHILDREN by Mabli Roberts The skilfully-told story of a strong woman determined to make a difference, with believable characters, dramatic adventures and plot-twists and exotic locations – and based on a true story. Gwyneth
THE GREATEST NEED: THE CREATIVE LIFE AND TROUBLE TIMES OF LILY TOBIAS, A WELSH JEW IN PALESTINE by Jasmine Donahaye
An amazing story of courage and enterprise against the odds. One woman in a time of great international upheaval standing up for human rights and for her own rights as a woman to make a difference socially and politically. Caroline
BETSY CADWALADYR: A BALACLAVA NURSE: An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davies by Jane Williams (Ysgafell)
The life-story of a Welsh woman who travelled the world, confronting monsters, typhoons, obstructive employers and Florence Nightingale – and did it her way! Gwyneth
And of course we have two very politically and overtly feminist books – WALKING TO GREENHAM: How the Peace Camp Began and the Cold War Ended by Ann Pettitt, a fantastic account of how the author gathered together a small group of would-be marchers and set out to walk to a UK airbase given over to the Americans – and created an movemnt. And HERE WE STAND: women changing the world, by Helena Earnshaw and Angharad Penrhyn Jones, a fascinating and unique anthology about contemporary women campaigners and how they were changed by the process of changing the world.
We are looking forward to celebrating more feminist books not just during Feminist Book Fortnight, but for the rest of the year!
Feminist Book Fortnight was launched in 2018, by a group of radical and independent bookshops around the UK and Ireland, led by the wonderful Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, as a celebration of feminist books. In 2019 even more independent bookshops, arts centres, feminist libraries and more around the country and abroad highlighted the diversity of feminist books over the two weeks with displays of books and lots of events. Participating bookshops reported lots of full events and a “thirst” for discussion of feminist issues as well as celebration of feminist achievements.
There has been an explosion of new feminist publishing in the last two to three years. Younger feminists are also discovering feminist classics. Independent bookshops wanted to celebrate these authors but also provide space for discussions and learning. Feminist Book Fortnight is a wonderful celebration of feminist publishing. If you missed out this year, then sign up for next year’s events – and maybe plan something yourself?
Keep in touch at: https://feministbookfortnight.wordpress.com/ @FeministBkFt19